In the Kitchen: Executive Chef Jack Moore of Watershed Kitchen & Bar
There’s something about that small town Ohio palate. Canned green beans. Mashed potatoes. Well done steak. It’s comfortable and familiar, even to Jack Moore, Executive Chef at Watershed Kitchen & Bar.
When Moore was growing up, green beans were green beans, not haricot verts. They were soft, not crispy. And they were canned, not fresh. They did come from his family’s gardens, though, of which there were many, harvested by several members of his family to keep the cabinets and fridge stocked through the winter. They canned everything from beans to pickled beets to apple butter, and each family member got a share.
“Walking into culinary school was kind of like a slap in the face,” Moore said, “like, man, I’ve been eating wrong my entire life.”
Moore started out with minimal knowledge of cooking, but a natural passion for it, even if that initially appeared in the green pepper he added to his Hamburger Helper. As someone who likes to work with his hands, he was first drawn to auto work, another kind of family interest that involved his brothers and the ever-present sounds of car repair.
After several years of working as an auto mechanic, a massive layoff purged 190 people from the company he was with. One was Moore.
“I was at a point in my career that I took that very happily. I took it as a new page, a new chapter,” Moore said.
That was in 2009. Since then, he’s gone from prep cook at a pizza shop to Executive Chef of Watershed Kitchen & Bar, which opened in January 2017. He made a lot of stops along the way, working fast food, fish and steak houses, and eventually more notable restaurants.
While at the Columbus Culinary Institute, Moore became a line cook at Sage American Bistro under Executive Chef and Owner Bill Glover. He worked there for four and a half year years, ultimately promoted to Sous Chef before Sage closed its doors in 2013. He still supports Glover by patronizing Gallerie Bar & Bistro, the Short North restaurant he opened five years ago.
Moore values a strong culinary community, where a network of chefs can rally in support of each others’ ventures. He said he found that in Cleveland, where his career took him upon Sage’s closure.
Moore was Executive Sous Chef at Greenhouse Tavern, then moved to The Black Pig in Ohio City. He was there for a year before the opportunity to run the kitchen at Watershed pulled him back to Columbus.
The difference he found between the two cities is distinct. Cleveland, an older city with a more established food scene, significantly outnumbers Columbus in renowned chefs and chef-driven restaurants.
“In Cleveland, there are really big names —Michael Symon, Jonathan Sawyer — who won James Beard awards, have multiple locations,” Moore said. “You have a core group of people that were under those guys 10 years ago, the people who rubbed shoulders with Michael Symon on the line, or were opening cooks at his restaurant Lola. Now, all of those guys are out and about in the city, doing things on their own.”
There hasn’t been that notoriety for Columbus chefs — there isn’t yet a following for many of the city’s great culinary minds, Moore said. But, it’s coming. Local restaurants are pushing boundaries, with the chefs running them constantly innovating, regardless of how safe Columbus foodies may keep it.
Moore keeps a burger on the Watershed menu, a familiar item among the sweetbreads and duck confit, to sate the cravings of his less adventurous clientele. He said a restaurant can do both: push forward while offering items to which people can easily relate.
For inspiration, Moore consults his own memories and interests and those of his cooks and farmers. He likes the servers to be well-versed on the stories behind the meals, the intricacies and reasons that make the dishes what they are.
“Looking at my menu, you won’t see things that are vegan or gluten free or anything like that, Moore said. “Not that those options aren’t there, but I want the person to ask the server, ‘If you’re vegan, what are my vegan options,’ and I want my server to be able to know that and talk about the food.
And, when I do have those heartfelt inspirations on where something came from, I want my server to be able to tell that story. Or if we have a farmer’s story to tell, where this product came from, I want them to be able to tell that story, too.”
The ingredients change not with the seasons, but according to the whim and product of Moore’s suppliers. Printed in house, the menu may gain or lose one or two items every week, subbing one bean or vegetable for another.
And, while Moore has full control over the menu, he often consults his staff for new ideas, encouraging them to stay informed on new techniques and cooking styles.
“If they have an idea, or if they have a dish that they remember from their childhood, bring it to the table. Let’s eat it, let’s talk about it, let’s critique it, and if it’s awesome, put it on the menu,” Moore said. “So, there’s many dishes on my menu that may have that inspirational, heartfelt story behind them, but it might not be mine. It may be my sous chef’s or my line cook that’s been with me for a year. So, I really try to let my team have that thumbprint.”
While once a point of resentment for Moore, he’s found value in the ways he first experienced food. And, prioritizing relatability in his dishes has allowed him to connect to his purveyors, his staff, and his clientele — even as he breaks boundaries.
“It kind of brought me back full circle, to know there isn’t necessarily a right or wrong thing to put on the plate,” he said. “It’s about how you relate to it.”
For more information on Watershed Kitchen & Bar, visit watersheddistillery.com.
Bonus! Watershed Kitchen & Bar was voted as the Top New Restaurant of 2017!